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Archive for March, 2010

Jekyll Island Club Hotel

I wonder how the guys (guys with names like Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Morgan)  who founded their exclusive hunting club here in 1886,  feel about the rest of us roaming about their once private dominion.  They set it up as an exclusive hunting retreat, a members-only island, completely isolated and protected. No way would any of us be allowed on. Now, their clubhouse, with its rooms and apartments, has been restored and updated – and it’s a hotel where anyone, who can pay the bill, can stay. The Grand Dining Room, where members used to take their ten course meals,  is elegantly serving food once again, albeit with fewer courses. Many of their “cottages” have been saved and are entertaining again -but it’s tourists now, soaking up history,  instead of the hobnobbing of the social elite. Some of us might be elite, others not so much – but the lines are erased, and we’re all invited in.

Cottage at Jekyll Island

Cottage at Jekyll Island (now part of hotel)

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The blog is behind again.  We had a wonderful visit with Barb and Jerry (Dick’s brother and wife) in their Melbourne home, a retired military community that graciously provides RV hook-ups for visiting guests!  And discovered the deliciousness of rock shrimp at “The Lobster Shanty” – we’ll be on the look-out for them from now on.  The day we left, we toured the Kennedy Space Center.

If I had to pick a word to describe that visit, it might be – underwhelming. After an amazing and breathtaking IMax movie on the Hubbard Telescope, it was pretty much all downhill.  Maybe that raised our expectations too high?  For whatever reason, both of us (that’s one non-science oriented but space enthusiast person, with one engineer husband who can look at rockets, etc. all day long) became almost bored as our touring progressed, and when driving rain forced us out of the park several hours before we planned to leave, no tears were shed.

Beach at Fort Clinch State Park, Amelia Island

And then, the next day, Amelia Island.  Ahhh, yes.  We’ve been needing something like this.  Fort Clinch State Park provides us with long walks along the beach, including a lovely starlit one, when we return from dinner at nearby ” Cedar River Seafood” where we have the best fried shrimp of our lives (they cook it in rice bran oil!). And my first up-close and personal encounter with an armadillo.

Fort Clinch State Park, Amelia Island

Campsite, Fort Clinch State Park (there ARE people on either side of us)

That was on my list of “have to see” things – now I can move on to a Painted Bunting sighting…

Fort Clinch State Park Armadillo

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Good Lord.  I probably mean that in any way it can be taken.

The Holy Land Experience is a biblical theme park in the Orlando area. It’s like a small-scale, fundamentalist Disneyworld. You enter through the Jerusalem gates.  I didn’t want to seem too familiar with Jesus, but he was there for picture taking.  (You’ll probably detect in my stance, a certain discomfort with that – although I love him (not the cardboard actor) in my own Catholic faith. And God knows we deserve some criticism – so I don’t mean to denigrate anyone else’s religion here.)

I really can't bring myself to say, Me and ____, so this is the entrance to the park

There were some enjoyable shows – that’s pretty much what goes on in the park. Some were very moving. We saw an outdoor Passion drama.

Passion performance, Holy Land Experience, FL

It was hard to watch the scourging and crown of thorns, the carrying of the cross and finally the agonizing crucifixion.  But I was very distracted by the blaring pop-style songs that accompanied it all. Many others didn’t seem to be, and sang along.

We saw several more indoor performances that had some of the same cast members playing quite different parts. When I spotted the Dracula-like black-caped Satan, who’d been swirling around in the Crucifixion production, be-decked in a red and white striped jacket and singing and dancing in the tribute to America performance, it was pretty hilarious.

"Celebrate America" set, Holy Land Experience, FL

One thing that made me a little uncomfortable was the way people seemed to relate to the Jesus actors, as if they were actually the real deal.  I had no problem relating to the performances in some of the shows – and admit to being moved to tears at times.  But, we went to a “Communion with Jesus” show, where the lines really blurred. After we shared some bread and wine (we got to keep our cups made of olive wood from the holy land – that was a nice touch) Jesus came around and personally touched everyone in the crowd, while saying some of his most famous sayings.  Now, bless their hearts, the people who were praising him and so moved by him may have much greater faith than mine.  But, I kept thinking – this isn’t Him, it’s someone playing Him – and it got a little creepy for me.  And, unfortunately, he was my least favorite Jesus.  (Now there’s a problem right there, one shouldn’t have to pick and choose their favorite Jesus.)

Holy Land Experience, FL

Holy Land Experience, FL

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Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park - her home

We went to this park because I loved the movie, “The Yearling”,  as a child and I love going to the homes of writers.  I didn’t know much about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings,  who won a Pulitzer for that book, but  I’m pretty excited to be here and learn more about her life.  Unfortunately,  it turns out they aren’t doing guided tours of the home and grounds anymore. So a bunch of us disappointed visitors wander around, peering through windows, reading our State Park brochure, trying to help each other out… did  Gregory Peck sleep  in THIS bedroom?

I learned this much:  Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was a city girl , who moved to this small farm, in the middle of an orange grove near tiny Cross Creek, Florida in the late 1920’s.  She lost a husband here – he didn’t take to the rural lifestyle – but gained fame and fortune with her writing. And, evidently,  a drinking problem and depression later on.

But she  must have been happy, inspired and very connected to the land and people here for a certain time period- there are a lot of quotations to attest to that.   I would need to read a biography to gain any real understanding of what happened here.  And read “Cross Creek” if I ever want to come back  – the staff person said it’s required reading for anyone visiting the site for a second time.

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Suwannee River, FL

We might have been singing “Way down upon the Pee Dee River”, if Stephen Foster (whose namesake park in Florida we’re in)  hadn’t had the good sense to search an atlas and switch to Suwannee  (which he misspelled Swanee in the song, Old Folks at Home) instead. Foster lived in Pittsburgh almost all his life, and never even visited Florida, let alone saw the Suwanee River.  But the song gave Florida tourism a huge boost!

We saw a copy of the manuscript where Pee Dee was replaced, and the actual desk where he looked through the atlas at the lovely museum on the grounds.  There’s also a carillon tower (97 bell) which send out his music at intervals throughout the day.  And a Craft Square (quilting, blacksmithing, glass-blowing, etc.) which was closed when we were there, except for the gift shop.  That was okay, we pretty much have those skills down.

Museum at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center

Carillon Tower, Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center

Campsites were nice and fairly private – and within walking distance of all of the above.  We had our first fire and hot dog roast of the trip – and the night sky was gorgeous.  It’s great to be outside again!  (Note Wisconsin plates 😉 )

Campsite at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center

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The morning of our 34th wedding anniversary started precipitously around 4:00 in the morning.  I wake up to see Dick’s worried face, bathed in the eerie glow of his computer screen.  There’s a big, bad thunderstorm heading our way and we’re in a campgrounds at Florida Caverns State Park, with a two and a half mile (under construction) entrance road that was muddy and almost impassable on the way IN, because of previous rain.  We’re worried that we may not make it out if we wait until morning.  So, in the black of night, we hurriedly throw on clothes, get ready for take-off, soothe the panicked cat who hates thunder,  unhook power, stow away blocks and as the rain begins to pour down on us, snake our way out of the campground onto the dreaded road of muddy ruts, potholes and stretches of primordial ooze. There’s rising water at the point in the road that the sign reads, “NO SWIMMING.  ALLIGATORS.”  We bounce up and down and skid from side to side,  huge fans of muddy water rise to the windows of the cab.  We are going to be filthy. But we are, after quite a few heart-pounding minutes, triumphant. We make it to the parking lot of the Visitor’s Center, and bed down there for the night, without the slide out, power, etc.  We’re just thankful for a safe “trip”.  And 34 years. 🙂

When real morning comes, we briefly visit the Visitor’s Center, then head to Tallahassee, and Chris and Emily. We put the Navion into a campground near their house – they pick us up and the weekend begins!  Great dinners, beautiful hiking, San Luis Mission,  alligators and birds at St. Marks, an introduction to “Modern Family”, lots of laughs, good conversation.  Throughout all of this, the cats dominate our attention.  Isabella, the young, but patient and gracious hostess, who somehow managed to control her natural exuberance towards Taylor;  and Taylor, our old scaredy cat who somehow, sometimes managed to control his fear.  So there was for the first time, nose-to-nose contact. And many minutes of staring into each other’s eyes. A little chasing, a little hissing – no fights.  The humans enjoyed it all.  We never hiss or fight.

Taylor, below, regretting his missed opportunities, when we hit the road again.

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Hope that post title doesn’t get me any weird, unwanted email…

Truth is, if my blog was a baby, it would be taken away from me.  I’m erratic and neglectful.  I get so excited at the beginning of a trip when it’s all fun and new, then I start feeling a bit obligated and overwhelmed trying to keep up with our travels,  then I spend nights doing that when I should I be reading, or walking or at least watching some good movie, then it finally starts feeling like an albatross.  And at some point, usually near the end, I fall apart completely and just abandon it.  That’s why maybe some of you may think we’ve been captured by Marines at our last stop…

I’d like to have a clean slate here.  We’re heading from Madison WI, to Tallahassee FL and then spending a couple months wandering around down south.   So far not much has happened of interest, a night in Effingham IL (pizza delivery) a night in Clarksville (road noise).  But, tonight, we’re staying in  Monte Sano State Park – which feels isolated but sits atop Huntsville, AL – and, oh yes, it’s happening.  Our campsite  (19) is secluded in the woods on top of the mountain/hill  and we look out onto our own little pond with peeper frogs going off at regular intervals. I love them.  I wake up in the middle of the night to listen.  And measure the time between the first little voice, then the answer, then the cacophonous chorus, and the silence before it all begins again.  I’m also waking up at dawn to look out windows to see if there are any huge bucks looking for company – the park ranger said it’s rutting season and they’ve been seeing all kinds of giant, many-pointed bucks and deer in the park.  I should have brought a bag of apples.

Hope to get the blog better organized this time out – but promises, promises.  (More like ability, ability…)

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